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Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: A simple cake from Italy's far north makes beautiful use of summer's stone fruit.
So, you have an excess of plums -- perhaps from your neighbor's heaving fruit tree that hangs into your yard or thanks to a bargain you found at the farmers market. Sure, you could always make jam. But if you're looking for something a bit different, this cake is for you.
The recipe hails from Alto Adige in Italy's far north, where the cuisine is largely influenced by bordering Austria and Switzerland. Alto Adige is a prodigal dessert capital and is also the hometown of this buckwheat and apple cake.
More: Eat your way through Alto Adige, starting with these dumplings.
This plum cake (torta di susine in Italian or zwetschgenkuchen in German) intrigued me with its bread dough-like base, made from ricotta, flour, olive oil, and milk. I'm drawn to the simplicity of the cake, too -- you just stir everything together, arrange the halved plums on top, and pop it in the oven.
Some versions of this recipe call for a streusel topping, but more traditional versions keep it plain. And it is, after all, a wonderfully plain cake -- the dough-like batter turns into a bouncy, soft, spongy base for the incredibly soft and juicy plums. The only laborious part of the recipe is removing the pits from the plums, though ripe plums make the job much smoother. Slice them in half and twist and pull the pits out with your fingers. If the plums aren't yet ripe, you may need to cut them out.
More: Have leftover ricotta and plums? Make some toast.
As for the cake, make sure you're using a firm ricotta. If it comes stored in liquid or is very moist, scoop it into some muslin or a clean tea towel and hang it over a sieve to drain for at least an hour in the fridge before using.
This cake can be served with a dusting of confectioner's sugar, a blob of real whipped cream, or some thick natural yogurt. But there is nothing wrong with a plain slice, perhaps eaten next to some black coffee for breakfast. Ah, cake for breakfast -- the Italians do it so well.
2 1/2 cups (300 grams) flour
7 ounces (200 grams) firm ricotta
1/3 cup (70 grams) fine sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
About 6 tablespoons (90 milliliters) milk
About 4 tablespoons (60 milliliters) olive oil
1 egg, beaten
About 20 fresh plums
Butter for greasing
Photos by Emiko Davies
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